Socrates and Plato - Session 21 (11 December 2001)

I Wanted to do Plato today, so that you may not forget entirely what you have done but if I start Plato I should continue for days and days and I don’t have so many days to stay here at present, so I thought I will do something Platonic, not Plato but do something Platonic. There are three words with regard to Plato which we must remember; Plato discovered the distinction between perception and conception. We had noted that physical objects are perceived but not conceived but in order to be conceived you need the intervention of conceptions. So let us repeat the sentence, you know it is always good in philosophy to repeat certain important sentences because then only they are better grasped so let me repeat. Physical objects are perceived but not conceived but they can be conceived by the help of conceptions. A simple example is a chair or a cat. You open your eyes and you see a chair or a cat therefore perceived but when you are not opening your eyes and you want to conceive of a chair that you have seen there is a miraculous operation of an idea, conception is basically an idea, you have an idea of what can be called a chair. In other words you have to have an idea of chairness, why do you call it chair because there is a class of chair, they resemble each other and there is therefore universality, there is universality of chairness. There are many kinds of chairs but all of them you call chair; this is a chair, that is a chair, that is a chair all of them are chairs why? Because there is something which is common like chairness. Now chairness you cannot perceive, you open your eyes and try to see chairness, you can see chairs but you cannot see, perceive physically chairness, so chairness is a concept. You may see this cat or that cat, you can perceive a cat but you can only conceive cattiness, it’s a universal cattiness. So Plato made a distinction between perception and conception and said that perception depends upon your physical contact with the object and that what you perceive is only a particular object but what you conceive is universal, you do not see, you do not perceive a physical contact, it is ideative contact. What is conceived is not perceived physically. Chairness is not physically perceived, you only conceive. Now this is the first proposition I that I had made to you earlier while dealing with Plato then second proposition that Plato makes is that universals are not manufactured, the physical objects can be manufactured, can be produced but universal concepts are; this is the second statement of Plato. The third statement that he made was that similarity; universality and existence are all conceived but not perceived. Similarity, universality and existence, this was the subject we studied at length last time and I am only summarising what we shall need when I come again to meditate on this subject at least for one or two days. We have meditated already on this subject but we shall meditate again as I said philosophical ideas need to be reflected upon again and again and again. So we shall meditate on this subject similarity, universality and existence are conceived but not perceived. The fourth proposition that he had made was that universals are not composed of particulars. This is also a very important statement. Universals are not composed of particulars; if you take an orange, if you open an orange several pieces will come out and you will find that each piece is a part of the total orange. So each particular part of the orange composes the total orange. Now in regard to universals it is not so, it is not as if so many particulars put together becomes a universal, it’s a particularity of the idea of the universal. Universal is found in particulars, a chair has in it chairness by virtue of which it is a chair so you find it to be there but it is not composed of particulars, it is not as if all the chairs put together in the world creates the totality of chairness, it’s not that. So particulars do not constitute universals, although universals are present in particulars then we had another statement from Plato namely, universals do not manifest particulars. Then the question is how are particulars produced? If particulars do not have their origin in the universals then how are particulars produced? The answer that Plato gives is, it is very difficult to account for it, and it is very difficult to account for it.

Now if Plato finds it very difficult you can understand how difficult it will be for us. Plato is a supreme thinker in world history, if he finds it difficult and when he tries to answer this question, you can see how hesitant he is. If you read his dialogue you’ll find how hesitant he is in answering this question and this is one question that you should carry with you for a long time, it is to be reflected upon again and again the relationship between the universals and the particulars, how are they related. Although universals are found in the particulars, particulars do not constitute the universals on the other hand universals do not manifest the particulars both ways there are difficulties. If you say that universals are composed of particulars there is a big problem so he denies it. If you say that universals manifest particulars then also there are problems so he does not affirm it. So he proposes the following solution. This also we had discussed last time I am only summarising for the sake of refreshing our memory. There is something which is nothing. Now you can see the difficulty of Plato. There is something which is nothing, it’s a self–contradiction but he says, I mean he is obliged to say in order to account for this and you can see the difficulty of his answer and he himself knows the difficulty of his answer but let us first of all understand what is his answer. There is something which is nothing which comes into contact with the universals which are always there. There is something which is nothing which comes into contact with the universals which are always there—eternal. In fact they are, they exist. Now by this contact that which is nothing becomes particular. The particular is a result of the contact of something that is nothing with that which is always as a result of which the particular is manufactured and particular imprints on itself the universal. It is a particular which gets the imprint on the universal, the particular is the copy of the universal, and the universal does not produce the particular. The original remains as it is but something else comes and gets it printed by the universal. Therefore particular is and is not, universals are always there that which is something which is nothing when gets imprinted by universal on it becomes particular that particular can be described as that which is and which is not. You can see immediately how difficult it is and how hopeless it is, the situation is hopeless. You can immediately see it is full of self–contradictions but he puts it forward knowing very well he has as much intelligence as you and I have, he immediately sees this is something terrible. I mean it is a self–contradiction but can’t help it; he says this is what it is. This is the summary of what I had told you last time. They all need to be repeated again and again. We need not take Plato to be final in all that he has said; we only want to expound, first understand what Plato has said very clearly in very brief terms. Even if it is a self–contradiction, Plato himself will not deny it. He knows himself the difficulties, I had told you last time there is a dialogue called Parmenides in which he himself criticises his theory, he brings out the inadequacies of his theory himself, it’s not as if he is not aware. And I am speaking of this to you very clearly in a few sentences so that the whole philosophy hangs in the mind with some kind of clarity and remember whenever you yourself will try to resolve this problem—the relationship between universal and particular, you will face the same problems. There is something in this world which is not clear. Particular you see, you can perceive the particular, universal you can conceive, you can see you can conceive universal in the particular but how does this come about? The conjunction of the universal and the particular is one of the most important problems and the more you think of it the more philosophical you become, this is the key. If anybody wants to be a philosopher one of the ways, there are many ways of becoming a philosopher but this is one of the ways by which you can be a good philosopher, you go on conceive and thinking on this subject and gradually your mind will become philosophical. So we shall whenever we meet for the next few occasions we shall reflect on it but even in your leisure you can reflect in a very quiet moment and wonder at this mystery of the universal and the particular. Now this is only a way of summarising what we had done last time and I told you that I would have liked to continue this subject if I were to stay here for a few days more but this is enough for the moment.

I have decided this time to take up another subject which perhaps we can conclude during the next few 45 minutes or so. I have distributed one paper to you today in which I have done something which is Platonic not Plato but something which is Platonic in character. Any attempt to conceive universals, any attempt to relate universals to particulars involves a Platonic exercise. Now you can apply it many ways, this Platonic exercise, Plato himself wrote considerably on this subject in many exercises, for example at one time he tried to relate Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Truth is universal Beauty is universal, Goodness is universal these are three universals and then he tried to combine these three universals into a still larger universal which he called The Good not goodness but The Good, the supreme universal, the highest universal in which all universals can be summed up. This also is another exercise you can do whenever you have time; you can try to relate Truth and Beauty and Goodness. Can there be truth without goodness, ask this question, can there be goodness without beauty? Answer will be yes and no. ultimately you’ll see that Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth, this is one of the conclusions that you can arrive at, when you reflect very deeply and similarly you will find Truth is the same as Goodness and Goodness is the same as Truth so you can reflect this is also a Platonic exercise. Can you be truthful without being just, it is a question relating truth and justice, justice is also universal, justice is also universal, can you be truthful without being just, can you be truthful without being courageous, and can you be truthful without being courageous, without being heroic? Then there are questions about what is physical beauty and what is the beauty of the soul and what is common between the two? So there are levels of beauties and correlation of all of them; this also is a Platonic exercise. You relate one universal with another universal, you relate one universal with one particular and try to comprehend and enlarge yourself this whole exercise is Platonic in character.

Now a similar exercise I am now putting before you. I have taken three important words—illumination, heroism and harmony. Now why have I chosen these three words? First it is simply because these are three very important words; many words can be chosen. I have chosen these three that is one reason. Second reason is that our whole institute is working on a very big theme we have got fifty researchers at least in Auroville who are working with me on a project of research and they have chosen this subject to define and to illustrate these three words—illumination, heroism and harmony for the last few months we are working on it. So I thought since we are also budding philosophers now we should also have some experience of participating in this programme, maybe after a year you will yourself begin to write on this subject. There is a very important chapter that Sri Aurobindo has written in The Life Divine, it is called The Problem of Life. This is a subject which people very often speak of, life is a problem, what is life, life is a problem and Sri Aurobindo asks the question: what is the problem of life? So his answer is that when there is a division between consciousness and movement when the two do not coalesce then the problem of life arise, when there is division between consciousness and movement, between consciousness and will. You examine yourself and you’ll find there are currents of will and currents of knowledge, currents of consciousness. When the two do not harmonise then there is a problem. If they harmonise the problem ceases then the entire problem of life can be resolved if you can arrive at a point where knowledge and will are in harmony with each other. Later on we shall discuss this question in detail; I am only answering a question very briefly. Then Sri Aurobindo asks the question: How to harmonise it, how the harmonisation between knowledge and will can occur and his answer is there are three powers by which this harmony can be brought about. If you increase in illumination, if you increase in heroism and if you increase in harmony then by repeated and continuous process of development you will arrive at a point where there is a harmony between knowledge and will and when that is arrived at life is not dissolved but life is made immortal. There is a continuous process without interruption of disintegration. It is for this reason that we have chosen this themes because these three are proposed by Sri Aurobindo to be the alchemy by which the problem of life can be resolved therefore we have asked this question: What is illumination, what is heroism, what is harmony? Now you will see all the three things you cannot perceive. Illumination cannot be perceived by physical eyes. Heroism you cannot perceive by physical eyes. Harmony you cannot perceive by physical eyes. It’s like a Platonic statement—similarity, universality and existence cannot be perceived but can be conceived, similarly these are three other examples which are not perceived but which can be conceived, they can be experienced but not physically. So there is a perception, there is experience, there is conception and these three things can be both conceived and experienced. They are very difficult words and what I have written here is only the first draft because I wanted to do exercises with all of you. If I make a full finished exercise then you may be led to think that this is final and you may be obstructed in your exploration. I want to keep it open so that you have full opportunity of correcting it. In your exercise you are aware that these are incomplete statements, there are defects in this. Now it is by your thinking that you may arrive at better statements and more complete statements that is how education should be, isn’t it? By exploring you overcome the deficiencies and arrive at a clarity or better clarity then what was before. So I am only presenting to you three what may be called tentative statements which need to be refined, defined further.

So let us see now first, you will see that what is stated here may not look very straight either but let us see how it is and then tell me how you find it. I am stating first. Illumination is ignition of inner light in which meaning and value of substance and life movement are seized, understood, comprehended, held and possessed. I’ll stop here although there is a coma but I’ll stop here at this moment, we shall read again. As I told you, philosophical statements need to be read and studied again and again and again. You should spend at least three hours on any good paragraph of philosophical writing, never be in a hurry when you read philosophy. Novels can be read very fast, accounts can be read very fast but philosophy if you read very fast it means that you do not understand, philosophy must be always pursued slowly. Only after five years of intense reflection of philosophy can you be enabled to read philosophy fast. If any student says: Well! I have read the book, a philosophical book; do not trust it. Unless a person has done philosophy for three, four years seriously, you can’t read a book of philosophy just like that. You must be very patient. Sri Aurobindo has said: One of the defects of thinking is to try to arrive at a conclusion as soon as possible. This is a defect of the mind, the mind is impatient. You put a question and immediately it wants to arrive at a conclusion and then do away with it, the problem is over. This is an enemy of the real quest of the Truth, the real quest of the truth is slow, sure, step by step, gradual and as you move forward in philosophical reflection—illumination will take place. You can experience illumination only when a word or a concept is held before you and gradually you grope about it. First you move around and then gradually you’ll find you are entering into the concept or the object and when you enter into the object there are many stages of entering into the object. You must have seen many animals moving round and round the object which they want to devourer. First of all they take rounds and then gradually pick into the object. Similar is our case when we try to understand a word or a concept in the object. You go round and round and then suddenly you will be able to find that you will be able to enter into the object or concept and then first you seize, seize upon it, then you understand, then you comprehend. There is a difference in understanding and comprehending. For example an object is put above you and you look upon it, you are standing below the object therefore when you grasp it, it is understanding. You are standing below, isn’t it? You are understanding, it is quite different when you stand above the object and grasp it. You’ll find when you are above the object your grasp is much greater. The same object when you stand below it and try to understand it, try to grasp it; it is a very laborious, very difficult, very partial but when you stand above it, your perception of the object will be comprehension, the object will be comprehended, all sides are covered in your vision.

So first there is a seizure of the object then there is understanding of it then there is over standing or comprehension of it then you are able to hold it and then you can possess it. Merely to keep an object away from you is one kind of understanding but when you have it in your own hands, possess it, it’s a greater mastery over it. So let us see there are five words given—seized, understood, comprehended, held and possessed. Now these five things are done in regard to what? Meaning and value of substance and life–movement. Now each word is a difficult word in which meaning and value, every object that you see, you always have to ask this. It will have a substance and it will have a life–movement. Anything in the world, this is generally true of everything. There will be substance and there will be life–movement. So whenever you say I am understanding something it will always be understanding of a substance and understanding of the life–movement. Now every understanding has again two aspects: there will be a grasp of the meaning and grasp of the value. When you see a diamond you first of all understand the meaning of a diamond, a glittering stone shining stone that’s the meaning of it, it’s not the same thing as the value of it, what is the value of the diamond? Not only the cost of it that is not the meaning of value. Value is always understood in the terms of satisfaction, the happiness and joy that its possession gives you. When you ask what is the value of it, it means the degree of satisfaction or happiness, or joy that that object, when possessed, gives you. So sometimes you may understand the meaning but not the value. A crow might pick up a diamond from a necklace which was left by a princess when gone to a bath and fly away, it has no value. The crow has felt it is a thing which can be eaten and if it could be eaten it had a value otherwise it has no value but for the princess the value of diamond is not because it can be eaten or not eaten. The value of the diamond is measured by her in terms of the inner joy that comes out of the possession and the beauty that it imparts to her body when she puts upon her body that is the value for her. Now you can see that in the process of understanding anything how many elements are involved, there is a substance, there is a life–movement, there is the meaning, there is a value and when this substance and life–movement, meaning and value are seized, understood, comprehended, held and possessed, when all these happen together then you can say you have now begun to be illuminated. Anything short of it is not illumination. You know in this field there are three very important words—information, knowledge and wisdom. These are three very important words in this connection, information, knowledge and wisdom. We very often speak of these three words. It is only if you are a philosopher, you try to think about these three words and try to understand the inner significance of these three words.

What is basically information? Information I’ll tell you very briefly so that the mind is at rest as I use these three words. Information is any process by which some kind of disclosure takes place. You know disclose, if the door is closed it is closure, if slightly open there is a disclosure. Now when you open the door, even slightly something that is inside the room becomes perceptible, it’s a disclosure and whatever we receive by way of the disclosure can be called information, this is the easiest definition of information. Any process by which disclosure of an object takes place is information. Knowledge is not merely disclosure of an object. Very often we say education is not an accumulation of information, that is to say education is not piling up of disclosures. It is said that education is a process of knowledge and further it is said that true education culminates in wisdom, not only knowledge but also wisdom. The educational process should be such, it does not merely inform you but makes you a knower then finally makes you wise then the education process becomes complete.

Now what is the difference between information and knowledge? Knowledge is the collection of ideas and interrelationship of the ideas and their value, this is knowledge. Where there is no ideation, where there is information, many human beings who read so many books there is a lot of information. Himalayas 29000 ft high, an information but what is the meaning of a mountain, what is the idea of a mountain, how it is related with many other ideas, the ocean and other kinds of topographical details of geography and so on and then what is the value of a mountain? Unless you have these together you don’t have knowledge of Himalayas, these are the minimum things that you require to know the Himalayas, it’s not enough to know that Himalayas is 29000 ft high, it’s a disclosure of some kind. Good, fine, nothing to combat, nothing to criticise about it but that is not knowledge. For information or for any kind of state of knowledge to come to mean, you should have ideation, interrelationship of ideas and the value of the interrelationships then you can say I have now known. Wisdom is even deeper than this. Now between knowledge and wisdom is illumination. I spoke of these terms because I would like to make a distinction between knowledge and illumination and illumination becoming wisdom. You will study this. Next time when I come we shall reflect on this, it’s a very good exercise so that ideas become very clear in your consciousness and you will tell me and at least this first paragraph you will read three, four, five times and find out any defect if there is any and next time when you come, you tell me how we can improve upon it. All right, good exercise.